The New Orleans Saints saw an unprecedented level of coaching staff turnover this offseason. Former tight ends coach Dan Campbell is now the head coach for the Detroit Lions, secondary coach Aaron Glenn joins him as the team’s defensive coordinator, assistant GM/VP of pro personnel Terry Fontenot is the general manager for the Atlanta Falcons, and quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi is the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Before anyone starts reading into any bleeding from the seams, Sean Payton has taken active and deliberate steps in the offseason to retain certain staff members. Bill Parcells’ influence on Payton’s coaching methods has been long-discussed, but it’s perhaps best displayed in his philosophy of cultivating and retaining coaching staff.
When Payton was assembling the Saints coaching staff in 2006, he tried to poach Tony Sparano from his former mentor; his requests were blocked. He was also a personal recipient of such efforts. While Payton was awarded full freedom to interview for head coaching roles while employed by the Dallas Cowboys, Parcells basically talked him out of the Oakland Raiders job. In doing so, Payton was retained by the Cowboys; he received a new contract, a raise, and a promotion to assistant head coach.
Sound familiar? Payton employed nearly the exact same tactics with retaining Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielson. There’s a clear philosophy of striking the proper balance between continuity and allowing assistants to seek out the promotions they deserve with the right organization. The emphasis on the latter part is paramount.
That all said, there nonetheless remains several voids to be filled on New Orleans coaching staff. Outside hires are certainly possible; as displayed in efforts to retain and reward Nielson, there’s a clear desire to promote internally when possible. Let’s go through the Saints top internal candidates to replace each respective role — starting with Dan Campbell.
Tight Ends Coach: Declan Doyle – Saints Offensive Assistant
Coaching Profile: Named to this year’s American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) 35 under 35 list, Declan Doyle joined the Saints staff as an offensive assistant in 2019.
Prior to New Orleans, Doyle served as an offensive student assistant at the University of Iowa from 2016-18. He coached the tight ends unit for the 2016 season, running backs and fullbacks in 2017, and tight ends and fullbacks in 2018. Doyle also served as the QB signal caller on game days in 2017-18, and further assisted in the weekly creation and implementation of the game plan in his final season.
While Dan Campbell also held the assistant head coach title in his New Orleans tenure, he brought vastly more experience to the tight ends coaching role. A former NFL tight end himself, the 11-year veteran joined the Saints staff in 2016 after serving as the interim head coach for the Miami Dolphins. Prior to that yearlong stint, Campbell had served as the team’s tight ends coach since 2011.
Conversely, Declan Doyle would assume the role after just one year of NFL coaching experience. If years of experience are paramount, then the team need look elsewhere. However, Doyle’s trajectory with the Saints is quite reminiscent of former offensive assistant Joe Brady. The current Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator was hired as LSU’s passing game coordinator and receivers coach after just two seasons as a Saints offensive assistant. Prior to his tenure in New Orleans, Brady had coached linebackers at his alma mater, William & Mary.
Not much different than where Doyle is today. Moreover, the trickle-down mentorship effect — from Parcells, to Payton, to Campbell — likely extends to Doyle. Somewhere in his nearly two-hour press conference, Campbell referred to Doyle as the man “under [me].” Doyle may be a general offensive assistant, but he was clearly taken under Campbell’s wing to cultivate tight ends talent.
In just one season, Doyle gained experience coaching players in every phase of their careers. He worked with seasoned veterans such as Jared Cook, and primarily-blocking TEs like Josh Hill. Doyle joined the Saints staff at the scouting combine in Indianapolis last season; Adam Trautman and Tommy Stevens came from that draft class. That adds coaching rookie talent and hybrid players to his resume. While he missed the initiation of the Taysom Hill experiment, Doyle assisted Campbell in converting former Saints quarterback Tommy Stevens into a full-time tight end.
Tight ends haven’t necessarily been a strong suit for the Saints since the departure of Jimmy Graham. That said, it hasn’t exactly been an area of dire need, nor a position prioritized in the last few draft classes; Campbell only had so many tools at his disposal. The same trend likely continues with whoever should fill Campbell’s vacant role.
Past the obvious and preeminent role of quarterback, New Orleans has several difficult decisions to make with the team this offseason — tight ends are at the bottom of that totem pole. Just like fantasy football rosters. Particularly with the loss of so many cornerstones of the Saints coaching staff, the tight ends role is an easy vacancy to fill with the “next man up” mentality. In that light, Doyle seems like the obvious candidate.
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